EAST LANSING, MICH. (WXYZ) - Interim MSU President John Engler said the construction of his new home in Texas was reason it took him eight days to apologize to a sexual assault survivor that he falsely accused of taking a “kickback” from her lawyer.
“I was down in Texas and frankly wasn’t spending very much time talking to the office, you know. It took a while, got back here on campus, getting ready for the meeting,” Engler told Channel 7’s Ross Jones.
When pressed as to how he couldn’t have known his comment had garnered national attention within hours of its reporting, Engler said his focus was elsewhere.
“I was in Texas, and one of the things you do when you’re working with your wife and you haven’t seen her for a while, and you’re working on a home that you’re building, you pay attention,” Engler said.
On June 13, an e-mail obtained by the Chronicle of Higher Education showed Engler assert to a colleague that Rachel Denhollander, the first of Larry Nassar’s victims to publicly accuse him of sexual assault, may have received a “kickback” from her attorney for manipulating other Nassar victims.
“That was a private e-mail written back in April, right in the middle of these tensions,” Engler said, “and I was completely frustrated, because I can’t say anything (at the time).”
Today, the board of trustees approved a $500 million settlement with Nassar's 332 victims.
Engler’s comment nearly cost him his job, as two board members attempted Friday to have Engler removed as interim president. The measure failed, 2-6, but survivors of Nassar packed the trustee's meeting, saying Engler isn’t on their side.
“I wanted so badly to be fighting with you,” said Jennifer Rood Bedford, one of Nassar’s victims. “Along side you, for change with my fellow survivors, not against you. But you were fighting the wrong fight.”
Channel 7's Ross Jones Jones reminded Engler of comments he made on his first day in office.
“You said you would treat the survivors as if they were your own daughters,” Jones said. “The survivors were very clear today, they say they felt belittled, they have felt disrespected, they have felt intimidated by you. With all due respect, sir, why are you still here?”
“First of all, when I said that, I meant that,” Engler said. “I’ve tried to conduct myself that way. By addressing the litigation, and getting the ($500 million) settlement, by addressing the problems in the medical school so there could never be a repeat of Nassar, by addressing how we handle sexual assault on this campus, and now seeing more people being willing to come forward, these are the things everyone believes need to be done.”
When reminded that most survivors, faculty members and some trustees believe Engler’s departure is necessary for the school, he replied: “Nobody’s going anywhere. Everyone’s staying here.”